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The Citroen DS: The Classic Luxury Car Way Ahead of Its Time

The features list tends to define what a luxury car is these days. And while classic luxury cars arguably have more style, they can’t necessarily compete when it comes to bells and whistles. There is one, though, that can. Today, self-leveling suspension and adjusting headlights are available in many high-end vehicles. The Citroen DS had both of these features, and more, in 1955.

The Citroen DS is an iconic classic luxury car

Hayao Miyazaki and his 1987 Citroen 2CV 6 Grey Special
Hayao Miyazaki and his 1987 Citroen 2CV 6 Grey Special | Citroen via Twitter

By the 1950s, Citroen had already created one classic car icon, the 2CV. Which, despite its rugged and minimalistic appearance, was the result of careful and considerate engineering. And, like the classic Fiat 500, it’s a fashion symbol in its own right.

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But it still pales in many ways to the Citroen DS. In 2009, a panel of automotive designers named it the most beautiful car ever made, Automobile reports. High praise, considering it faced off against the likes of the Jaguar E-Type. Italdesign founder and well-known designer, Giorgetto Giugiaro, said the DS is “impossible to imitate,” Gear Patrol reports.

Rear low-angle view of a red 1960 Citroen DS underneath a metal-and-glass dome
1960 Citroen DS rear | Citroen

This is one reason why a 1973 Citroen DS is part of the New York Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Even the car’s name references the design. Pronounced in French, ‘DS’ sounds like ‘déesse,’ French for ‘goddess,’ Wired explains.

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But the Citroen DS’ appeal goes beyond physical appearance. For a classic luxury car, it was incredibly advanced for its day, Hagerty explains. When it debuted for the 1956 model year, it came with hydro-pneumatic adjustable and self-leveling suspension, Automobile reports. It was also the first mass-produced car with front disc brakes, Motor Trend reports.

It had hydraulic power steering, a hydraulically-controlled semi-automatic transmission, and was one of the first cars to use plastic in its interior. Later versions had swiveling headlights, the Wall Street Journal reports, and A/C.

All these features mean that, despite being a classic car, the Citroen DS feels very modern.

It drives almost like a modern car

To be sure, the Citroen DS isn’t exactly fast. Despite the forward-thinking technology, the classic luxury car’s engine was fairly conventional. The original DS 19 came with a 1911cc four-cylinder engine, developing 75 hp, Hagerty reports. By 1972, the engine had grown to 2300cc and gained fuel injection, which let it produce 141 hp.

The interior of a white 1964 Citroen DS19, showing red seats and the push-button brake pedal
1964 Citroen DS19 interior | Bring a Trailer

Still, behind the wheel, the Citroen DS is “fascinating and enchanting,” Autoblog reports. The brakes are hydraulically-operated, but there’s no actual brake pedal, just a rubber button. But even without ABS, they can stop the DS extremely quickly.

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However, the Citroen DS’s real party trick is its suspension, which delivers a “magic carpet” ride, GQ reports. The ride quality was so impressive, Rolls-Royce borrowed it for some of its cars. It does mean the car rolls quite a bit in corners. But then, few classic luxury cars can take a speed bump at 45 mph with impunity, Automobile reports. And it was still robust enough to let the DS win both the 1959 and 1966 Monte Carlo Rally, Motoring Research reports.

Getting your own Citroen DS

Unfortunately, the suspension is also one of the biggest headaches for Citroen DS owners. And not just because there’s 2200 psi of pressure inside. Pre-mid-1969 models used a hydraulic fluid which tended to corrode the lines. In fact, the DS itself is prone to overall corrosion. Luckily, there are new or remanufactured DS parts available. Access to a good specialist mechanic is definitely recommended, though.

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Despite its iconic status, the Citroen DS can be relatively affordable. Roughly 1.4 million were built during the 1956-1975 production run, Classic & Sports Car reports. In addition to the expanding engine, Citroen also offered a more basic version for taxi drivers, called the ID. The DS also came in stretched Pallas and convertible Décapotable form.

A red 1975 Citroen DS Pallas parked on a gravel forest road
1975 Citroen DS Pallas | Bring a Trailer

Of these, the convertibles are noticeably more expensive, Hagerty reports; many cost over $100,000. However, it’s possible to find well-maintained or restored hardtop examples on Bring a Trailer for less than half that price. In June 2020, a 1975 Pallas went for $36,000.

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